Thursday, January 1, 2009

Long Long's New Year

While working on my M.Ed., one of the required classes was "Multicultural Teaching & Learning". I didn't like the class, overall. The textbook was pushing leftist ideas, and a website used by the professor had a "quiz" to point out how bad America is (and it was from a professor at another college who was all about "social justice" - code for "America is a bad country that mistreats anyone who isn't white and male." However, with the students in the class, discussions didn't get out of hand with America-bashing. One of the assignments was to share a "multicultural" book and write a lesson plan for it. I found Long Long's New Year by Catherine Gower. It is beautifully illustrated by He Zhihong. I liked it because its focus is the traditions of Chinese New Year (The Year of the Ox begins January 26, 2009).

It is time for Spring Festival. Long-Long is going with his grandfather into town for the first time. They have cabbages to sell before they can buy what they need to celebrate Spring Festival. On the way to the market, Grandpa's cart gets a flat tire. Long-Long helps Grandpa push the cart to the market so they will be ready when the customers come. Once everything is set up, Long-Long takes the cart to find a bicycle repair shop.

On his way, a lady riding a bicycle stopped just in time before running into Long-Long and his cart. He helps pick up the oranges that fell out of her basket. She gives him "a big lipstick smile" and an orange in thanks.

At the bicycle repair shop, the repairman fixed the flat tire, and Long-Long asks if he can help. The repairman puts him to work pumping tires full of air. Before Long-Long leaves, the repairman thanks him, giving him a yuan coin.

Long-Long returns to Grandpa in the market to find the the cabbages have not sold. Long-Long shows Grandpa the yuan coin he earned, but Grandpa tells him that is not enough to buy what they need to celebrate Spring Festival.

They see an old woman who is also selling cabbages, but hers are not as nice as the ones Grandpa had. She tries to make them look more fresh by sprinkling them with water when no one else is looking... She manages to attract customers by calling out to them before they get to where Grandpa is selling his cabbages.

Long-Long wandered off, trying to think what to do. Soon he arrived at a street restaurant. The smells from the cook's pan were wonderful.

"Hey, are you hungry?" shouted the cook.

Long-Long looked at his silver coin. What should he buy? Two steamed buns stuffed with pork and ginger... no, rice soup with pickled vegetables... Then Long-Long remembered Ma and little Hong-Hong. He put the coin back in his pocket.

"I've never seen you around here," said the cook.

"I came with Grandpa to sell cabbages," answered Long-Long quietly.

"Then sell me fresh cabbages for my soup and steamed buns!" she said.

Long-Long led the cook back to Grandpa. He was worried that she would buy cabbages from the old woman instead, but when she saw the old woman, the cook shouted angrily, "I told you never to come back here! What are you selling this time? More holes and caterpillars?"

Grandpa was able to sell all his cabbages, as no one wanted to buy from the old woman anymore. They had enough money to buy what they needed for Spring Festival: spices, rice, flour, cooking oil, firecrackers and lucky words on red paper.

On the way home, Grandpa stopped at a Hundred Goods Store and gave Long-Long 10 yuan, telling him to treat himself. He bought his little cousin bows for her hair. Then, he found hand cream for Ma, but he was one yuan short, until he remembered the silver coin from the bicycle repairman.

When he finished making his purchases, he hears "the beating of a gong and a roll of drums" from a passing procession. He runs outside to watch.

The next spread of pages is a wonderful illustration of the procession Long-Long sees: Lions, a long dragon, fish, the musicians, and more, as well as the spectators.

When Long-Long returned to Grandpa, he is presented with a sweet treat: tang-hu-lu, a stick full of toffee fruit. They go home to Ma and Hong-Hong. "Long-Long took a square of red paper with Fu painted on it. He pinned it, upside down, to the front door. Ma and Grandpa smiled and Hong-Hong clapped. Happiness and good luck had arrived in Long-Long's home just in time for Spring Festival."

At the back of the book, you will find a brief story of "The Very First Spring Festival": long ago in a village like Long-Long's, every year, a monster called Nian came, and the people would run away. One time, a beggar came as everyone was leaving. He found an old woman who was "too tired to run after the others." She told the beggar about the monster. He said he would help, but he was hungry. The noise of the old woman preparing the dumplings woke the monster. When the monster came, the beggar used red paper to hurt the monster's eyes, then he set fire to "a magic baton of bamboo", which made lots of noise that scared the monster away. Then, the beggar disappeared. The old woman told the villagers about the beggar, and now they do what the beggar did at every Spring Festival.

Also, there is a page listing the Chinese words found in the story: the English spelling, the Chinese character, and a definition.

This book is recommended for children 4 to 8 years old.

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